Think back to some of the geek movies of the 1980s, and your brain will surely dredge up all kinds of extraordinary moments: Ripley fighting the alien queen, RoboCop’s first night on duty in crime-ridden Detroit, Marty McFly tearing up the stage at the Enchantment under the Sea dance.
Our big question is, what did some of 80s cinema’s more famous moments look like when they were reduced down and zapped into an 8- or 16-bit computer? Inevitably, the movie magic survived in some games better than others. So here’s a random selection of scenes from 80s movies, and how they fared in their related videogame tie-ins…
Return of The Jedi (1982)
The movie scene: People talk a lot about the hover boards in Back to the Future 2, but we’re equally annoyed that nobody’s managed to invent a working speeder bike yet. The speeder bike features in one of Return of the Jedi’s best scenes – a frantic chase through the Forest Moon of Endor.
The game: Unlike Atari’s earlier Star Wars coin-ops, which were brought to life with gorgeous 3D vector graphics, Return of the Jedi is a rather more generic isometric shooting game vaguely akin to Zaxxon. It’s all perfectly serviceable, in a forgettable sort of way, with everything from the speeder bike chase to the Millennium Falcon’s final run on the Death Star recreated with colourful little sprites. The sound’s also quite good – the explosions sound nice and meaty, and the Ewoks make a plaintive little cry when they’re killed.
The game really loses some of the adrenaline-pumping thrills of the movie, though, with the arcade technology of the time unable to move everything around at a decent enough clip. A more exciting recreation of the scene came in unofficial form on the ZX Spectrum: the futuristic racer 3D Death Chase saw you bobbing and weaving between trees in entertaining fashion.
Back to the Future (1985)
The movie scene:
The movie scene: In the final sequence in James Cameron’s Aliens, Ripley comes face to face with the alien queen once again – the towering beast having stowed away on the fleeing Sulaco. The moment where Ripley suits up in the Power Loader to fight the queen is one of the greats in sci-fi movie history – it marks the point where the heroine can finally fight her nemesis on an even footing. And, of course, it’s all accompanied by that killer line, “Get away from her you bitch…”
The game: While several Aliens games appeared on home computers in the wake of the movie, the best was arguably Konami’s arcade-only tie-in. Although it takes certain liberties with the film’s iconography – Ripley’s blonde, and some of the aliens can fly – Aliens: The Arcade Game goes a long way to getting across the fearsome action of Cameron’s cinematic outing.
The Contra-like multi-directional shooting all culminates in a recreation of Ripley’s Power Loader fight with the queen which, given the technology of the time, looks great: the queen’s a suitably monstrous, towering thing, while clambering into the suit finally lets you dispose of the evil critter like a spider down a plughole. Strangely, the game doesn’t end with the expected line, “Not bad… for a human,” but the unintentionally amusing line, “You have also survived… congratulations!” Ah, the 80s.
The movie scene: When this licensed game came out, there was some concern over Ocean’s ability to capture the “war is hell” nuance of Oliver Stone’s Oscar-winning movie. Based on Stone’s own experiences in the Vietnam conflict, Platoon’s seen through the eyes of patriotic new recruit Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen), who comes face-to-face with Tom Berenger’s scarred and possibly psychotic Sgt Barnes. Can the game possibly capture the harrowing quality of Stone’s account?
The game: Well, no. Not really. Once again, the game boils down to a series of action mini-games, each vaguely patterned around a corresponding scene in Platoon.
The game ends with you chucking hand grenades at a fuzzy recreation of Sgt Barnes. It’s not a terrible game – or at least, it wasn’t by the standards of its era – but it’s not exactly thought-provoking, either.
The game’s line, “You have found a box of grenades – now get blastin'” doesn’t exactly reflect the source movie’s anti-war sentiments.
The movie scene: On his first night out on patrol, cybernetic law enforcer RoboCop sets about cleaning up the streets of Detroit. Marching down an alleyway where a pair of scumbags are terrorizing a young woman, RoboCop draws his gun and barks, “Let the woman go. You’re under arrest.” When one of the attackers holds the woman hostage at knifepoint, RoboCop fires a deadly-accurate shot that punches through the hostage’s dress and hits the bad guy square in the balls.
The game: One of the levels in Ocean’s perfectly decent RoboCop tie-in switches to a first-person perspective, where you get to rescue the female hostage in what at first appears to be an exact replica of the scene above. Unfortunately, your only option is to repeatedly shoot the bad guy in the shoulder or some other protruding part – the trick shot Robo pulls off in the film doesn’t work here. We know this because we tried it several times.
Ocean’s game is a good deal more varied than the arcade tie-in, produced by Data East. Mind you, the latter did come with a nicely animated ED-209, which thundered around the screen, growling.
The Running Man (1987)
The movie scene: Schwarzenegger took on the might of a totalitarian future America in Paul Glazer’s trashy adaptation of Stephen King’s novel of the same name. Framed for a crime he didn’t commit and sentenced to die on television in the bloodthirsty game show The Running Man, Ben Richards (Arnold, of course) must fight a series of larger-than-life gladiators in order to survive. One of The Running Man’s most memorable scenes – and used quite frequently in its marketing – sees Richards hiss to the show’s host Damon Killian (Richard Dawson), “I’ll be back.”
“Only in a re-run,” Killian smugly retorts, before throwing a lever which sends Richards sliding down a tube into the battle arena.
The game: The Running Man tie-in is a definite cut below the things Ocean was churning out in the same period. A chunky recreation of Richards dashes around a series of 2D levels, kicking dogs in the face and occasionally encountering some of the armored villains from the film – among them Subzero (“Now plain zero!”), Buzz Saw, and Captain Freedom (Jesse Ventura).
To its credit, the game takes a stab at recreating the sequence described above: we see Richards strapped into his futuristic bob-sled, snarling at an off-screen Killian before he’s sent plummeting into the danger zone. “I’ll be back,” Arnold hisses – or that’s what we think he said. It really sounds more like, “ChhhrrRRindeeebaggChhrrRR”…
The movie scene: John McTiernan’s sweaty, violent sci-fi action movie pits Schwarzenegger against a muscle-bound big game hunter from outer space. Having lost his band of mercenaries to an invisible creature that has hunted them down one by one, Dutch (Arnie) smears himself in mud, lays down his firearms, and takes on the Predator in a final confrontation.
The game: Even compared to the disappointing Running Man tie-in, Activision’s Predator tie-in for the ZX Spectrum was a truly tawdry effort. The whole game is essentially the film’s final act, where the cast’s whittled down to Arnie and the Predator. Weirdly, you spend much of the time killing all the bad guys who seem to be fleeing the Predator when really, you should probably be turning heels and running away with them. Occasionally, the screen will turn purple and you’ll have to avoid the Predator’s gun sight.
On even more rare occasions, the Predator itself will plod onto the screen, and you’ll engage in the most boring fist-fight in video game history – if you survive, the Predator will run away and leave you alone for a bit. After a few minutes of doing this, you’ll come across a log, which you can winch up into the air and then drop on the Predator’s head when it wanders back on the screen again. You then have a few seconds to run to the end of the screen before the Predator explodes. And that’s it – within eight minutes or so, the game ends. Pulse-pounding it is not.
The Untouchables (1987)
The movie scene: Brian De Palma turned his mischievous brand of filmmaking to this violent adaptation of the TV series of the same name, and it’s one of his best movies of the 80s. De Palma positively revels in his action set-pieces, the best of which involves a tense stand-off at a Chicago train station.
As prohibition cop Elliott Ness (Kevin Costner) and sharp-shooting sidekick Stone (Andy Garcia) anticipate the arrival of a mobster and his accountant, a young mother drags her pram up a flight of stone steps. Just as she reaches the top, a vicious gun fight breaks out, and the pram, as we’ve been waiting for all along, goes bouncing back down the stairs again in glorious slow-motion. The unspeakably cool aftermath sees Ness bring the pram to a halt in the nick of time, while Stone takes aim at a spot just between the mobster’s eyes…
The game: Following the format of other Ocean tie-in titles, The Untouchables is an action platformer interspersed with a varied series of mini-games, each taking inspiration from a familiar scene in the game. The sequence described above, with the pram tottering down train station stairs, is reimagined in the game as a top-down shooter where you, as a be-hatted Elliot Ness, attempt to protect the baby as villains rush at you from all sides. It’s fast-paced and tough, but inevitably, doesn’t capture the knuckle-chewing tension of De Palma’s perfectly orchestrated moment.
The next bit in the game is far more surprising: a short, sharp shooting section where you, taking on the role of Stone, have to put a bullet in the mobster’s head before the hoodlum can shoot his accountant hostage. Viewed from a first-person viewpoint, you have to hurriedly move the sights on your six-shooter to the right spot and pull the trigger. Success or failure results in a shower of gore which was quite unusual (and even mildly controversial) for the time.
Red Heat (1988)
The movie scene: East meets west in Walter Hill’s exceedingly violent buddy-cop movie, in which Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Russian detective Ivan Danko teams up with New York cop Art Ridzik (James Belushi) to catch an escaped Soviet criminal.
Before all that happens, we’re introduced to Ivan on what at first appears to be his day off – there he is, relaxing in a Russian sauna with lots of other very large, muscular men. But then a harsh machismo-testing game starts up (which involves squeezing a lump of blazing-hot coal), and Ivan starts punching everyone through windows.
The game: Hill’s action banquet becomes a plodding walk-and-punch side-scroller courtesy of Ocean. Curiously, all the characters are only viewed from the waist up – possibly to avoid the time-consuming effort of animating their legs. Level one recreates the film’s sauna scene, where you control Ivan as he pads along, punches a villain in the face, and repeats the process until the level ends or you turn the game off.
In a departure from most 80s action games, you can see some men’s bottoms in places, and one of Arnie’s opponents looks suspiciously like Sylvester Stallone.
To be fair, a mini-game also recreates the bit where Arnie squeezes a lump of coal – I seem to recall you have to waggle the joystick to close the Austrian Oak’s meaty hand. And to spice things up, later levels allow you to walk along a bit, shoot a bad guy, walk along a bit, shoot a bad guy…
The movie scene: One of the great things about the Tim Burton’s Batman was its array of gadgets. The Batmobile looked unspeakably cool at the time (and still does, in a spiky, gothic sort of way), and Batman got to show off all its capabilities in a series of chase sequences. Batman’s spiky vehicle can deploy bombs from its wheels, cover itself in armor, reduce its width to fit through narrow gaps, and – best of all – use a side-mounted grappling hook to snag things like lamp posts and iron railings and use them to perform tight, 90-degree turns.
The game: Here’s a great example of how a game designer can spot a brief moment in a movie and extend it into something much larger. The blink-and-you’ll-miss-it grappling hook moment from the movie becomes a fun (and tricky) mechanic in Batman: The Video Game, where firing the grappling hook at just the right time is vital to successfully navigating Gotham’s city streets.
A solid little driving sequence in the vein of Out Run or Chase HQ, and part of a rich tapestry of mini-games, a flying sequence, and platform-action levels. One weird thing worth noting: each of the platform levels saw Batman take on the Joker’s army of hoodlums, almost all of whom looked exactly like the Clown Prince of Crime’s ill-fated sidekick, Bob the Goon (Tracey Walter). Now that’s what we call recycling.